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VOL. 125 | NO. 137 | Friday, July 16, 2010

CDC Chief Pushes Prevention on Memphis Visit

By Tom Wilemon

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Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saw the frontlines of the city’s health battles while in Memphis.

Frieden was in town Wednesday for the start of the National Association of County & City Health Officials annual conference, held here for the first time. The conference, which ends Friday, had nearly 900 people registered as of the first day.

While in Memphis, Frieden learned about efforts to combat AIDS, reduce the infant mortality rate and address chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Frieden visited with staff at the headquarters of the Memphis & Shelby County Health Department then toured the Hollywood Health Loop Clinic.

Later in a speech to the annual conference of the National Association of County & City Health Officials at the Memphis Cook Convention Center, he pointed out that some of the nation’s biggest and most costly health problems are preventable.

“Prevention is the best buy in the health sector,” Frieden said.

Preventive health measures will contribute to the nation’s economic recovery, he said, and identified six “key winnable battles.” They are tobacco control, nutrition/diet improvement, hospital-acquired infections, motor vehicle injury, teenage pregnancy prevention and HIV prevention.

Frieden also called for more clinical intervention to put people at risk for heart disease on aspirin regimen, to treat people with high blood pressure, to reduce high cholesterol levels and to help people stop smoking.

“Only a third of people at high risk get an aspirin regimen,” he said. “Only 45 percent of people with high blood pressure have it under control. Only 29 percent of people with high cholesterol get it under control. …That is despite spending one of every $6 of our entire economy on health care. It would be very difficult to spend this much money and do worse.”

Before coming to Memphis, Frieden reached out to Yvonne Madlock, director of the Memphis & Shelby County Health Department about visiting with her staff. She was more than happy to oblige.

Frieden met with staff members who work in the department’s tuberculosis unit and sexually transmitted diseases unit. Then he went to the Hollywood clinic where he learned about efforts to lower the infant mortality rate and prevent teenage pregnancies.

“I think our ability to show and tell today and to demonstrate some of the wonderful evidence-based practices that we are participating in here in Shelby County was all good,” Madlock said.

She made a pitch for federal funding, just as other health department officials from across the nation did during a question-and-answer session at the conference. But officials in Memphis got some private time with Frieden as did Tennessee Health Commissioner R. Susan Cooper.

Memphis had hoped to be one of a handful of cities chosen for a Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant to address childhood obesity. Nashville received a $7.5 million federal grant earlier this year, but Memphis received no funding.

Madlock explained to Frieden how a community collaborative in Memphis was still going forward with its work to reduce childhood obesity.

Frieden in his speech noted that obesity costs the health care system in the U.S. about $150 billion a year and that childhood obesity has tripled in a generation.

He called for more direct efforts to reduce teenage pregnancies. Other nations that once had rates as high as the U.S. have reduced them.

“We need to make services, including contraception, more widely available,” he said. “I recognize how controversial that is in many legislatures. Interestingly, it is less controversial in many communities where parents don’t want their kids getting pregnant.”

Frieden also expressed concern about HIV prevention efforts.

“Not only have we stalled, but in some subpopulations, such as younger men who have sex with men, we are going in the wrong direction,” he said. “We are seeing resurgence in syphilis and that resurgence is heralding resurgence in AIDS and HIV in men under 30.”

“It is penny wise and pound foolish not to have (condoms) very widely available,” Frieden said. “It costs society about $600,000 to care for one person with HIV. That’s a lot of condoms.”

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